The experience of women at work: new data and inspiration for Women’s History Month
Data shows that women are getting more ambitious and also prioritizing wellness. Momentive leaders weigh in with advice for both.
Between the 1950s and the turn of the millennium, the definition of success for women evolved from being an attentive housewife to being a powerful professional. These days, many women are deepening and expanding that idea to focus on career growth, balance, and mental health.
In honor of Women’s History Month, Momentive partnered with CNBC to get a better sense of the experiences women are having in 2022. The data presents a complicated picture of ambition, burnout, self-reflection, and steps forward—especially among women of color.
We’re sharing those findings here, along with advice from many of our own senior leaders, in the hopes of inspiring more women to examine their own priorities, advocate for themselves, and keep shaping a more equitable workforce.
The experience of women in the workplace in 2022
Last year, our International Women’s Day research showed a drop in ambition. This year, that trend reversed itself.
Women are advancing in their careers, getting more ambitious, and optimizing for growth
According to our research, working women are tentatively making moves in the world.
- One in 5 (20%) say their career has advanced in the last year, with 42% saying they are making more now than they were last year—which is roughly equivalent to the percentage of men saying the same. Of course, this doesn’t reflect the overall amount that women are making—which remains inequitable.
- Still, the growth is inspiring, and it is matched by year-over-year trends that bode well for aspiring career women. Last year, only 8% of women met with their managers weekly to talk about career goals. This year, that number jumped to 14%, indicating both that women are getting more face time with the people they report to and getting more focused on their career advancement.
- Lastly, ambition has grown. About (49%) of women describe themselves as “very ambitious” when it comes to their career, up from 45% last year.
Some of this growth is simply a rebound. The early parts of the pandemic had a cooling effect on people’s professional plans as current events (understandably) took center stage. Women in 2022 have a little bit more certainty. At the same time, there is a clear trend toward professional empowerment, which we can only hope will continue to deepen.
Women of color are especially poised to advance
Inspiringly, the community of American women that has historically faced the most unfair opposition is also the group that is currently growing the fastest: women of color.
- A full two-thirds (66%) of Black women describe themselves as “very ambitious” when it comes to their career, and 55% of Latinas say the same.
- Not only do women of color want more for themselves, but they’re also already on their way to achieving more: 28% of Latinas, 28% of Asian women, and 26% of Black women say their career advanced in the last year, compared to only 16% of white women.
These accomplishments come in spite of the inequitable hurdles that women of color have to overcome. Black women and Latinas both facing steeper pay gaps from men than white women, and they are more likely to experience microaggressions, miss out on resources and opportunities, and face bias.
It’s long, long past time for them to be recognized for their accomplishments, resilience, and drive. Hopefully, this growth will bring us closer to true equity. We still have a long way to go.
Work/life balance matters more than ever
The drive that women feel for professional success is tempered by an equally pressing need for work/life balance.
- Among women who quit their job this year, 51% said they did so for better work/life balance—compared to 37% who wanted to advance their career and only 35% who left to find a job with better pay. In fact, many women who quit were even willing to take pay cuts to reduce their stress.
- 54% of women say their mental health suffers to the point of burnout because of their job, all or some of the time.
- 43% of women are scared that taking advantage of new, flexible work schedules could set back their career, sometimes keeping them from enjoying the benefits.
For women to truly succeed at work, we need to make it more sustainable for them to do so. Investing in mental health might be one of the most effective ways to support employees of every gender. Inclusivity and caring about employee wellness goes hand-in-hand.
Advice from female leaders at Momentive
We’d like to close with some words of wisdom for women who want to grow, get ahead, and also honor their own needs.
“One thing I’ve learned, with applicability in both a professional and personal setting, is that you teach people how to treat you. You teach people with every interaction, with the way you engage in conflict or problem-resolution, and with the way that you establish boundaries or rules of engagement.
A pattern of harmful interactions (like never saying no to a request) establishes an expectation that you will always accept additional requests—without consideration for your workload, priorities, or interests. Conversely, when you establish expectations like, for example, ending the workday at 5p.m. so that you can do what I refer to as “dinner, bath, books, and bed” with my girls, you teach people that that time is a priority for you and not available for disruption. This gives you permission to be intentional about how you want to be treated and manage interactions to achieve that outcome.”
Becky Cantieri, Chief People Officer
“First, truly understand your strengths and build a career around them—as you get more senior, you can always hire others to help you solve for your weakness.
Second, always focus on solving the problems that most affect the business. Women are often told growing up that if you 'just work really hard, you’ll be rewarded,’ but there are two things wrong with that: First, you can work a million hours, but if the business doesn’t care about what you are delivering, you won’t be rewarded for it. The second thing is that you need to ask to be rewarded. Make sure your manager knows what you want, and why you deserve it based on your impact.”
Robin Ducot, Chief Technology Officer
“Spend time figuring out what you love doing—but also what you don’t love doing. It’s okay to say no to projects, but it’s worth trying a few things on for size before you decide they are not for you. Knowing what makes you tick professionally (and recognizing what doesn’t excite you at work) can not only help you find roles that will keep you motivated, but also allow you to prioritize more effectively in all aspects of your life.”
Lora Blum, Chief Legal Officer
“Advocate for yourself and the way you want to work. Flexible work should be the new norm, and no one's career advance should be penalized because of their choice to embrace flexible work.
The pandemic provided an opportunity for our generation of workforce to test out these new ways of working and to prove its benefits for retaining a diverse workforce and boosting productivity. Now that there is evidence for that, women need to be bold about asking for what they need. ”
Jing Huang, Senior Director of Engineering